Draft Insider MASTER TESFATSION
One of the few areas the Vikings couldn't address with a big splash in free agency is linebacker, and it's a strange year for the position. Although there are quality players available, there will be a lot of prospects selected in the first two days who played both defensive end and linebacker in college.
With the versatility, coaches and general managers are tasked with projecting whether a player would be a better fit not only in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense but as a defensive end or linebacker. Some of those prospects include Georgia Tech outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaouchu, Brigham Young outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Boise State defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Lawrence and Stanford defensive end/linebacker Trent Murphy.
Outside linebacker clearly is deeper than inside, led by Buffalo's Khalil Mack. There are some intriguing outside linebackers who could be available even in Day 3, such as Florida State's Telvin Smith and UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt. But nobody is on Mack's level.
"I want to be the best," Mack said at the NFL combine. "I don't know who all you guys talk to, but in anything, my dad always taught me you want to be the best at anything and everything that you do. And, I strive to be the best at anything I do. Whether it was raking the leaves growing up, or whether it was playing tic-tac-toe with my brothers, whether it was kicking the ball in the dirt with a can on the ground and you had to kick the can. We did stupid things, but we wanted to be the best at it, and that's the reason I am so competitive."
There are a lot more questions with the inside linebackers. Top prospect C.J. Mosley of Alabama, Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Stanford's Shayne Skov might be the only inside linebackers selected in the first three rounds.
There probably will be four linebackers taken in the first round, including Mack, Mosley, UCLA's Anthony Barr and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier. It wouldn't be surprising if Van Noy sneaks into the first round as well, though many project him as a second-rounder.
But scheme and time to develop will be important for most of the linebackers in this class.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The best linebacker in the draft and worthy of the first overall pick. The All-America selection had 10.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, three interceptions and five forced fumbles. While the competition he typically faced wasn't stiff, he did have nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and a 45-yard interception returned for a touchdown against Ohio State. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer probably would love Mack, but it's unlikely he falls out of the first round.
C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
He's a smart linebacker who led Alabama with 108 tackles last season. Mosley has great instincts and can stop the run, which has been Zimmer's main focus on defense. He'll fall to the mid-to-late first round, however, because of durability concerns. Mosley suffered elbow, hip and shoulder injuries during his time at Alabama. If healthy, he could be an impact linebacker.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
His stock apparently has dropped recently. Barr is far from a finished product after playing linebacker for only two seasons after switching from receiver. He's a raw talent who's athletic and explosive. Twenty of his 65 tackles last season were for loss. The team that drafts Barr in the mid-to-late first round will have to develop him, and he likely won't be an immediate starter.
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Shazier led the Big Ten with 143 tackles and ranked third nationally with 22.5 tackles for loss. He is all around a solid linebacker like Mosley except Shazier's instincts aren't as good. Shazier can stop the run and looks comfortable dropping back into coverage. At times he is overly aggressive and can overpursue. Shazier could be a late first-round pick.
Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
He played defensive end and linebacker in college and surprisingly decided to turn pro following his junior season. Bradford hasn't missed a game over the past two seasons and led the Sun Devils with 8.5 sacks. He's athletic and explosive as a blitzer. Listed at 6-1 and 250 pounds, Bradford might be more suited in a 3-4 defense. Either way, he should sneak in as a Day 2 pick.